I was 10 when Dad told me that "the fascist takeover of America is imminent."
It was 1953 during the Army-McCarthy Hearings, the height of the Cold War. He was a leftist newspaperman on the lam from his old friends and his resume, editing the local newspaper in our old Republican town out on the South Shore of Long Island.
Before that, before World War II, he was a reporter at the storied Brooklyn Eagle. That now-defunct paper was one of the largest afternoon dailies in the country (the small Eagle currently publishing owns the name). It also was home to what Time in 1955 called “a prewar communist cell in the editorial offices of the Brooklyn Eagle.”
The occasion for Time’s revelation was the 1955 testimony before the red-witch-hunting Senate Internal Security Subcommittee of Winston Burdett, one of Dad’s former chums at the Eagle. Burdett went down in the history of the Red Scare as the newspaperman who named names, specifically of 10 other members of said Communist cell. I guess Dad’s wasn’t one of them, for careers were lost and lives wrecked and his wasn’t.
Or maybe Dad wasn’t a Communist, despite going to meetings and winning an award for most hours on the picket line during the acrimonious 1937 strike that helped form his consciousness. Was he a communist? I must have asked, for I recall his saying “I don’t carry a card in my wallet.”
"Card carrying communists," you remember those words. McCarthy saw them everywhere. I don’t know about Dad. Maybe. He was a Rotarian. I don't remember a card, though.
And he didn’t do anything, you know, communist. Didn’t communists do something other than talk about it and act smugly superior? Dad poisoned no wells, sabotaged no power plants, recruited no American boys and indoctrinated them into a lifetime wariness of American wonderfulness ...
My first assignment as a red agent concerned the death threats that came when the local paper gobsmacked Republican America with his anti-McCarthy column. He told me that now that I was 10 ... double digits, you know, he said it holding two fingers in the air … that it had become my job to run home from school on the day that the paper came out and grab the phone before my mother could. She was an excitable Irishwoman who might believe them.
I did this faithfully, breathing fast from the dash as well as from the excitement of being a child warrior in the fight against fascism. The phone would ring. The angry voice would growl “we’re gonna kill all you commies.” With a savoire faire that would serve me well later in life, I would say “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to call back when my father is home.”
They would and he’d argue with them while I stood there, proud of my role as an anti-fascist lad.
What else did I do? It was more what I didn’t do. I didn’t salute the flag, sing the national anthem, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I took a stand and didn’t stand. Such protest may be national news now, but back then at the height of the Red Scare it made no ripples whatsoever. The first time I kept my seat, the home room teacher said “oh, you’re one of those” and never mentioned it again. My classmates appeared not to notice. No one seemed to notice. I was a bit disappointed.
For all their threats and bluster, the McCarthyites and Birchers did nothing, at least not to us. The fascist takeover of America was less than imminent. It didn’t happen at all. Dad wasn’t lined up against the wall and shot, as he had predicted. (Neither did he make it onto Nixon’s enemies list, an assumption based on his much-later job as editorial page editor of another large New York City daily, also long gone.)
The Red Scare was over and the fascists lost. The old left had proved itself prone to exaggeration, the old right to blustery threats that go nowhere. I pounced into young adulthood feeling strong and with my savoire faire locked and loaded.
I did normal-young-man things like playing tennis and, being as I lived on the Great South Bay, racing sailboats. I went to and graduated from a small liberal arts college. I was class president and, of course, editor of the campus paper. I finished the credits for a master’s degree in sociology, but declined an invitation to enroll in the doctoral program. I wasn’t hung up on the completion thing. I wanted to write.
I became a reporter like Dad. I covered the counterculture, mostly the music end of it but also some of the politics. Dad's 1937 quickly and without much warning became my 1968. Compared with his experience mine was, I don't know, slight.
I found myself a key member ... one of the only members, actually ... of a grassroots organization called Citizens for Kennedy and Fulbright. It was our intention to enter Bobby Kennedy's name in the 1968 New Hampshire primary. I don't know if we were the ones who did it, because I subsequently met Abbie Hoffman and my attention wandered.
I was sitting with him in his St. Mark's Place apartment when he lit a joint, took a long ... toke, if that is still the word for it ... nodded west toward California, and said "we have to find a way to politicize the hippies."
I was on the Columbia campus the night of "the bust." A baton-wielding cop chased me across South Field, having mistaken me for a student (as did the doctoral committee, come to think of it). I hid in the shadow of the Journalism building, breathlessly enjoying the irony.
Either that same night or one near it, I was sitting in the improvised press room at Columbia when I got the tip that got me a byline in the Times, a fairly prominent byline. I also became a nationally syndicated columnist.
In early 1972 the Weather Underground blew up a bomb outside the Pentagon. That would be the student radical organization Weather Underground, not the current, historically clueless, weather app of the same name. During a walk in the woods, his preferred venue for sharing (we had to be alone, you know, out of the range of FBI recording devices) he said, “you know, Mike, I used to worry about these kids building bombs, but lately I’ve been thinking about it.”
I’ve blanked out on the rest of the conversation. I simply don’t remember. Dad had nuked my neurons,
That very month or thereabouts, John Lennon accused me of conspiring with the CIA to get him deported. I had reported that he was working while here on a visitor's visa. That rings a bell, or perhaps a ringtone. Damn immigrants. There's been some talk about them recently, also by the historically clueless.
That was about it for me and politics. I left newspaper work to write mystery novels. My first won an Edgar Award, so I wrote a dozen more. I roused no rabble. I married twice, helped raise two sons, welcomed a granddaughter, moved to New Jersey, and smiled benignly at sunsets.
Dad died at the end of Reagan's first term, oddly enough without ever talking about him. Shortly before and on another walk in the woods Dad said “the greatest regret of my life is not joining the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and going to fight the fascists in Spain."
Then he died, with stunning appropriateness, in 1984. He was gone, and with him the prediction of the imminence of fascist takeover that I had long scoffed at.
Three decades wandered by. I had no Times byline anymore, no syndicated column, but I was online and as a kind of remembrance and tribute, I put the credential "Red Diaper Baby" in my Facebook blurb.
And I spent much of 2008 and the years that followed Twitter-bashing Sarah Palin and the rest of them. So did most of my friends, and if anyone noticed I heard nothing of it.
I began writing a memoir of my extavagently peculiar ancestors, who had a Gumpian knack for being nearby when something amazing happened.
Then came 2017. I'm 74 and I'm 10 again, the angry voices are back and this time they mean business. This time I'm scared. The savoire faire is finito. I can't muster the dark humor and joie du morte that the McCarthy years gave me.
I'm terrified. I can't watch the news without revulsion, fear and fury. I’m fearful of how angry I’ve become. I hate. I have to walk out of the room when that horrible man is on camera. I’m reminded of why I always preferred newspapers to television when it came to news. Reading the paper, I don’t have to hear the voice or see the face.
I wish I could rekindle my childhood role as an anti-fascist kid. But what could I possibly do? Refusing to stand, salute and pledge wasn’t enough when I was a kid. It’s less now.
I wish Dad were here. I wish I could say "make my fascist-takeover fears go away like yours did." But I know what he would say, and it wouldn't be "the fascist takeover is imminent."
He would say "It's here."
Why can't I lay off my fondness for logic ... I ain't no Vulcan anyway ... and enjoy myself? I'm watching the current "Vikings" episode wherein Ragnar, I believe, is executed by throwing him into a pit of vipers after an days-long elaborate traveling ceremony. Ghastly; the Vikings were little more than roving homicidal thugs, never mind history's reputation-cleansing.
Rather than reveling in watching the carnage like a true 'Murrican I'm wondering where they got the vipers in venomous-snake-deprived England (Northumberland, no less). Only one species in Merrie Olde. That's why it was merrie, Vikings notwithstanding.
Using technology available in 900 AD, how did they locate and safely catch and warehouse 500, say, venomous snakes? How did they find 5,000, say, mice to feed them while waiting for the condemned to be brought to the pit? The trip appears to have taken days.
I mean, no thick snake-handling gloves. No suitable cages. No climate/ controlled housing. Further, ever try to run down a mouse? Five thousand mice?
Moreover, where'd they get the civic will to tie up a few dozen men who otherwise would be sacking Portugal? What did they tell them? Sorry, boys, no silver and gold this trip. Snakes and mice.
Hard to enjoy violence on teevee these day. Damned fake media.
I knew a lot of currently dead rock stars
This year marks the 48th anniversary of my becoming the first full-time reporter/photographer covering the rock beat at The New York Times and, as such, the first full-time rock journalist of any major American newspaper or other form of major media.
I was high profile at the time, at least in New York music and publishing. I was called “a name writer” and didn’t have to be IDd to publishers.
Part of the reason that it was, you know, it’s The New York Times and you can’t understand the power of that institution unless you’ve labored in its vineyard. Said legendary Metropolitan Editor Arthur Gelb when he hired me, “we write the history of the world. In 200 years, when people want to know what happened in 1968 they’ll read your words.” O-kaay, what a year to start in.
Just a little pressure. I thought he was referring to me only until about a decade ago, when I had an email correspondence with Maureen Dowd in which she revealed “he said the same thing to me too.”
In the years that followed I met a lot of rockers, famous or nearly so. I've known and loved and praised, hated and insulted, been insulted by, run into, run from, abused substances, had my ears assaulted, or otherwise invaded the private spaces of a lot of rock stars who have since become deceased, snuffed it, ceased to be, rung down the curtain, kicked the bucket, croaked, shuffled off this mortal coil, or in one way or another joined the choir invisible.
The number of dead rockers -- some of them good and talented people -- of my acquaintance stands at 47. Keep in mind that this list is of the ones I knew, not all rockers. The total list fills volumes. There’s at least one huge site dedicated to it. Regarding mine, most were musicians, but a few were important music insiders. There are two recent additions, Leonard Cohen and David Peel. Also this year I’ve added expanded commentary and another yarn. And, at last, internal links that work.
It's tempting to think that drugs were behind most of these abrupt departures. However, in many cases death came via largely unrelated medical problems -- heart attacks, strokes, or cancer, mainly. A number did die of overdoses of either drugs or alcohol, sometimes both. Others succumbed to crashes by aircraft, cars, and one by skiing into a tree. There was one fatal infection (I expected more). There also were murders and one suicide, possibly to avoid death by any of the aforementioned.
If you're adding up and tracking deaths per band, we’re talking about three-fifths each of Canned Heat and MC5, three-fourth of the Doors, half each of Sonny and Cher and the Who, one-third of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Peter, Paul and Mary, and a quarter of the Beatles. They were rockers who died, died. Here's the list, 2016 update.
SPIRITS OF ROCK STARS PASSED [sic]
Hoyt Axton -- folk and country singer and son of the co-author of “Heartbreak Hotel.” His own writing included “Joy to the World,” the worldwide hit by Three Dog Night which became the theme of The Big Chill, the movie that chillingly summed up my grad school experience and the years thereafter. (You’ll simply have to guess which one of them I was.) Of Three Dog Night, Hoyt dropped a couple of tidbits on me. Both concern their renditions of his song “Never Been to Spain.” They objected to using the line “but I kinda like the Beatles” because they considered themselves competitive with the latter. But they sang it. However, they changed his line “in Oklahoma, born in a coma” to “in Oklahoma, not Arizona.” Considering the political climate in Arizona lately, I’ll take the coma. He died of a heart attack in Victor, Montana, on October 26, 1999, two years after his mother drowned in a hot tub in Tennessee.
Steve Baron. Folk/rock/fusion singer, songwriter, guitarist, fixture on the national coffee house circuit for years, and a good friend. Of non-AIDS-related hepatitis C infection, at the Nashville hospital where he had a second career as a nurse after giving up his music career and burning his masters. Died March 2002. He never had a hit record but made my list due to his friendship with Pete Townshend and me and his contribution to one of the legendary moments in the annals of rock and roll in general and the Fillmore East in particular. See Cissy, Whitney, and life within the yurt.
Sid Bernstein -- August 21, 2013, at age 95. Sid was the soft-spoken concert promoter who brought the Beatles to the U.S. in 1964, where among other things they packed Shea Stadium and made me terrified of the power of massed 14-year-old girls on a mission. Of a shadowy figure moving about a dugout in the pre-concert terror, “That’s George! Only George stands up like that!” I last saw Sid in Zabar’s. Well, what would you expect?
Sonny Bono -- of skiing into a tree, January 5, 1998. Former Tin Pan Alley songwriter with extraordinary taste in women. You’d have to chat with her to fully understand that.
David Bowie – of liver cancer at age 69 on January 10, 2016, in New York. Well, okay. Complex subject. He was universally loved by rockers of my generation and the one after it – millennials I don’t know. He was the worst interview I ever did. I subsequently learned that he had the flu and shouldn’t have invited me to his hotel room. He answered everything as “yes” or “no” while sitting with some unnamed but probably hip-cult-star girl and the two of them ate Fiddle Faddle (upscale Cracker Jack). He didn’t offer me any, which I considered rude. Finally he said “I guess I’m just a boring person.” Pissed off, I left.
As I recall, I never wrote up the interview for my New York Times Special Features column. It never appeared in the Times. Instead I wrote a piece on Bowie's first New York appearance. Surf over and read “One more freak show -- David Bowie's famed Carnegie Hall appearance.” Ground Control to Major Dave: Have some Fiddle Faddle and chill.
Harry Chapin -- in a car accident July 16, 1981. Harry was one of life’s really good people, and I don’t say that simply because he was grateful enough for my career-launching review to put me on his Christmas card list and invite me to his wedding.
Leonard Cohen -- in his sleep after a fall at his home in Los Angeles, November 7, 2016. Where to begin with Leonard Cohen? Well, here: This story about Leonard Cohen has sex in it.
Jim Croce -- in a plane crash September 20, 1973. I have no recollection where and when I met him, only that I did.
Michael Davis -- played bass for MC5. Died February 17, 2012, of liver failure. Notes Wikipedia, "Sometime in the mid-1970s, Davis spent time in Kentucky's Lexington Federal Prison on a drug charge, where he was unexpectedly reunited with [MC5 guitarist] Wayne Kramer." God, I love rock and roll.
I got drunk with him and the rest of the band at a hotel lounge in Cincinatti in early 1969. The loung band kept asking "MC5" "MC4" "MC6" and asking them to come up and jam. That would have been some trip, wouldn't it.
John Denver -- in a plane crash October 12, 1997. Cooler than he has been painted.
John Entwistle of the Who, and the only one of them who was capable of standing still -- June 28, 2002 of a heart attack also involving cocaine and a prostitute. In Vegas, naturally.
Steve Ferguson of NRBQ. He was the guitarist who is credited with their eclecticism, which included rockabilly and experimental jazz. I was an unabashed NRBQ fanboy in their late 60s years, wrote them up as often as I could, and dragged Clive Davis to see them, which got them their first recording contract.
Then I dragged Hendrix to see them and they goofed on him. He threatened to throw a table at them, then walked out, shaking his head. That was the last time I ever saw him. I lost interest in the band thereafter. Steve left in 1970. He died of cancer, October 7, 2009.
Rory Gallagher -- Irish blues rocker, died June 1995, of complications of a liver transplant. I should have gone with him that night backstage at the Rod Stewart and Faces show in Anaheim when he said "come have a jar" and beckoned me toward his dressing room. But I had just had a jar with Rod and the boys during the ride from L.A. Also in the limo was a raisin saleswoman Rod has picked up at the hotel pool. Whatever happened with Rod, in the limo she had to endure a string of raisin jokes.
Jerry Garcia -- died August 9, 1995 of a heroin-related heart attack doubtlessly aggravated by his lifelong taste for junk food. We had a classic San Francisco rock conversation upon meeting in a soggy in an otherwise empty VIP area under a tent near the stage at Woodstock.
Sound of pop tops popping. Silent watching of whoever the fuck was onstage.
San Francisco rock.
Bill Graham -- legendary concert promoter and foul-mouthed pain in the ass. We had a rocky relationship but eventually made up. He died October 25, 1991, of a helicopter crash while returning from a Huey Lewis and the News concert.
Tim Hauser -- founder of the beloved jazz/fusion vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer, of cardiac arrest in his sleep at a hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania on October 16, 2014. Their cover of "Java Jive" is one of those tunes that stays forever in your head. I lost touch with him after the first few years; he remained a respected advocate for vocal music. The band is still out there with a new lineup. Catch them if you can. Catch also Erin Dickens Geyelin, one of the original members of Manhattan Transfer, now a wonderful jazz singer.
Richie Havens -- died April 22, 2013, of a heart attack at age 72. He was rock’s giant (6’5”) spiritual icon, supporter of childrens’ and environmental causes, and the man universally recognized for opening Woodstock by singing for three straight hours while the immense and restive audience waited for the rest of the acts to get there. His ashes were scattered from a small plane over the site of the 1969 festival.
Richie was my first rock interview, published in ’66 or ’67 in the East Village Other, which titled it “On Earth as It Is in Richie Havens,” such was the aura he projected. We hung out a bit. He showed me his paintings, which he kept in a pile atop the fridge. He got me into Slug’s, a blacks-only jazz club in Alphabet City, to see Sun Ra.
He told me about his teeth, which he lost to speed as a young man growing up in Brooklyn. While his denture was being made he used something like a hockey teeth protector, one reason that this basically happy guy never smiled for his early promo pics. The teeth protector and the eventual denture gave him a slight lisp that you can hear in his early recordings.
Being of NBA height, he had huge hands and long fingers that, I think, dictated his choice of open tuning on his guitar. It involves the ability lay a finger atop all six strings while using the thumb to sneak around the neck and hold down a couple of the bass strings. If you think that’s easy ...
The open tuning also allowed his signature sound, which was to strum faster than any other known human. I jokingly attributed that to the speed, but I was probably wrong.
Havens was a War Baby like me, having parents who dealt with raising kids in the Depression. In consequence thereof, he was, at least when I knew him, frugal. When he started to make it and the cash began coming in, he opened savings accounts at 10 or 12 banks around Manhattan, depositing $15,000 in each. At the time that was the amount to which the FDIC would protect your deposit. Richie was a wonderful man, but one who never quite got over the Summer of Love, if that bothers you. But he made one think that maybe, just maybe, “love one another” was a pretty good way to live.
Since his death a lot has been written about his Woodstock performance and his versions of “Freedom,” “Handsome Johnny,” and the other better known recordings. I think instead of his slowed-down “San Francisco Bay Blues,” which stands alongside Streisand’s take on “Happy Days Are Here Again” as being a majestic way to re-imagine a song. It occupies a prominent place on my iPod.
Jimi Hendrix -- died September 18, 1970, of a drug overdose. He would be humiliated by his surviving family's messy fight over his estate. See "Jimi, Harry and Me" elsewhere on this site.
Bob Hite -- six-foot, 300-pound singer for Canned Heat, died of a heart attack April 5, 1981. He proclaimed me “a freak” at a time when it was considered high praise. See “When Canned Heat Plied the New York Times With Weed,” elsewhere on this site.
Janis Joplin -- died of a heroin overdose October 4, 1970. That'll learn her for snarling at me. See “That night I was in England making a ham sandwich for Mama Cass,” also elsewhere in this blog. She butchered "Me and Bobby McGee," which of course became the version the public remembers. I wish I knew more intimate details about you, despite having also spend time with Leonard Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel. Not the same kind of time. Like him, I can't keep track of each fallen robin.
Paul Kantner – jutting-jawed guitarist for Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship and resident musician in Grace Slick’s crib. The couple produced actress China Wing Kantner. He died in San Francisco at the age of 74 on January 28, 2016 from multiple organ failure and septic shock following a heart attack. Grace and he were sitting behind me – weirdly in the topmost and absolutely worst seats in Madison Square Garden watching Cream -- when I turned around and said hi to Grace. He smiled faintly. History records him as having been a tad grumpy. Don’t you need somebody to love, Paul? Oh, got her.
Jerry Leiber, August 23, 2011, of cardiopulmonary failure. Do I really have to explain who Leiber and Stoller were? Let me just say “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand By Me,” “On Broadway,” "Spanish Harlem" and on and on. Of their songwriting partnership, Leiber said "I yelled, he played." They did it for me once, using an old upright piano, at the Brill Building, which also needs no explanation. That private performance was one of the most wonderful rock and roll moments I ever had.
John Lennon -- murdered on December 8, 1980, outside his apartment building, New York's 19th century landmark the Dakota, which also was the setting for "Rosemary's Baby." He would have enjoyed the subsequent deification. See “‘The New York Times’ Writes About Me” elsewhere on this site.
Ray Manzarek -- the Doors’ wooden keyboardman, of bile duct cancer, May 20, 2013. In an interview he compared himself to Miles Davis. Well, he played some of the same notes. It has been pointed out to me that I use some of the same words as James Joyce.
Linda McCartney -- one-time photographer (I bought some photos of Jim Morrison from her) -- and part-time, sort-of backup singer; I first saw her getting into the elevator at Andy Warhol's Factory. This was a year or two before she told Lillian Roxon she was moving to London with the intention of marrying a Beatle, any Beatle, and snagged the prize. She died April 17, 1998, of breast cancer.
Keith Moon -- the Who's wild man drummer; drowned in his own vomit following a drug overdose on September 7, 1978, surprising no one.
Jim Morrison -- died July 3, 1971, by one account of a heroin overdose and choking on upchucked sweet and sour pork, surprising even fewer than were later surprised by Keith Moon. He would have enjoyed the postmortem idolatry, especially since current cultists are building a religion around him.
Scott Muni -- legendary New York DJ and early pioneer of progressive rock radio. I forgive him for standing in the control room and making rude gestures at me while I was trying to record my awful weekly roundup of new releases. I sucked as a DJ, prompting colleague Jonathan Schwartz -- whose show followed mine on Sunday evenings -- to go on the air with the comment “everyone thinks they can be a DJ these days.” I also forgive “Scottso” for opening his show with “Elusive Butterfly.” (That was a lie. I don’t.) That “summer of love” cringe-inducer sucked even more than I did while saying the words “this is Mike Jahn on WNEW-FM, Metromedia Stereo in New York.” Scott died September 28, 2004, possibly of a stroke brought on by the memory of my attempt to jockey disks.
Murray the K -- died February 21, 1982 of cancer. The former Murray Kaufman was pure old show biz, even doing borscht bell shows before becoming a manic, howling top 40 DJ in New York in the late 50s - early 60s. That in and of itself would have kept him far from my list of elite dead rockers. But Murray transformed himself into one of the earliest proponents of “progressive rock” (as it was often called at the time), playing alternate tracks, albums cuts and generally doing all he could to promote quality rock. And he did it beginning in 1966, way before almost everyone else. Hey, things moved fast those days.
In the three years of Murray’s transformation, the Beatles went from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to “Strawberry Fields Forever.” During his manic, Top 40 days, he billed himself as “the Fifth Beatle.” He followed them into rock history. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about Murray the K except that in his West 60s apartment the dining room ceiling was upholstered. Seriously. Pleats of fabric radiated out from an immense central button. I suppose the effect was that of a sharkskin sunflower. Sitting at the table, I couldn’t help glancing up in fear that the thing would snatch up and swallow me, much like the homicidal begonia in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Felix Pappalardi of Mountain, April 17, 1983, murdered in his East Side luxury apartment building. Never cross Fifth Avenue, gentlemen, I keep telling you. If the street sign doesn't have a "W" on it, you're in mortal danger.
Steve Paul, legendary proprietor of Steve Paul's Scene at 46th and 8th. It was there that many of the star-studded jam sessions you heard about took place. The Scene was three blocks from the Times and easy to drop in after work, which is to say at one in the morning. It was harder to remember what happened the next day. He died October 21, 2012, at a hospital in Queens, the cause curiously hard to find.
The Scene was the setting of my "documentary novel" -- I did that in those days -- of the same name. It was the latest attempt by Bernie Geis, the publisher who inflicted "Valley of the Dolls" on an unsuspecting world, to duplicate its success. "Expect to make $500,000," he told me. I made $8000.
What was even freakier than the Scene habitues who inspired me was the visit I got in the early 1980s from a representative of Dick Clark, who was interested in making "The Scene" into a film. Dick Clark producing a film version of "The Scene." Courtney Love would have been perfect for the role. What a long strange trip it's been.
David Peel -- of a heart attack at a Manhattan VA hospital on April 17, 2017. David Peel and the Lower East Side were street rockers with an East Village gestalt and an obscene outragiousness that now seems rather quaint. I met around the time that his LP "Have a Marijuana" was released in 1970. Those days it was shocking when he sang "Up Against the Wall [motherfucker]" and naughty when the tune was "I Do My Bawling in the Bathroom." It was customary back then for the hip to refer to the core sex act as "balling" and not "fucking," which was considered crude. Ever sensitive to societal sensitivities, Peel used the word "bawling." Some snickered.
Elvis Presley, August 16, 1977, drug overdose aggravated by too many fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches. He would have been embarrassed by the deification. See “A 'hunka hunka' of an anniversary.”
Billy Preston -- R&B keyboardman who became famous for keeping the Beatles from killing one another during the "Abbey Road" days, June 5, 2006, of kidney failure.
Paul Revere -- as in "Paul Revere and the Raiders," a mid-60s smash hit teenybopper band that dressed in Revolution War costumes and had several hits -- "Kicks" being the big one. He died of cancer at his home in Garden Valley, Idaho on October 4, 2014, age 76.
Of the Raiders, lead singer Mark Lindsay became a screaming teen idol and celebrated by renting the house where Sharon Tate and housemates were later slaughtered by the Manson Family. Actually, I'm not sure of the timing. As for Paul Revere, I went in for the interview certain I was going to hate him for the Revolutionary War getup and all the teeny fan magazine covers. I wound up loving the dude. He was a great guy with a good perspective on himself. BTW, his name was Paul Revere. Good luck wherever you are, Paul. One if by land.
Lillian Roxon -- August 10, 1973, of an asthma attack. An Australian, she was New York correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, an early rock journalist and one of the connections between the rock and Warhol scenes. As such she was very good to know. She wrote “Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia” and was fun to chat with at the table at the front of Max’s Kansas City, where what I call the New York Rock Critics Circle assembled. She had a famous public falling out with Linda Eastman for marrying McCartney and then shunning all her old buddies.
Doug Sahm -- of the Sir Douglas Quintet and a dozen other bands and a very influential figure in tejano. He talked faster than anyone I ever met. His embullience let him sing the line "you're such a groove you blow my mind in the morning" and make you like it. From his hit "Mendocino." He died November 18, 1999, of a heart attack in a hotel room in Taos. I would like to think there was a bottle of Lone Star on the nightstand.
Fred "Sonic" Smith -- of MC5, later husband of Patti Smith (no blood relation). Died November 5, 1994, of heart disease.
John Stewart, of the Kingston Trio and a long solo career that included writing "Daydream Believer" for the Monkees, "July You're a Woman" for everyone, and "Chilly Winds," a tip of the cowboy hat to the glory days of folk's road songs, for his old mates in the Kingston Trio. Try his tune “Cannons in the Rain” if you get the chance. He died on January 19, 2008, of a stroke.
Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary, September 16, 2009 of cancer. The only folkie to come out of the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene who actually grew up in Greenwich Village. We hit it off, an iffy sort of thing with people whose performance you have to review. Mary was a keeper.
Rob Tyner -- singer for MC5, died September 17, 1991 of heart failure while driving home from the grocery store.
Dave Van Ronk - "the Mayor of Macdougal Street" and early nurturer of many folksingers, including the young Bob Dylan. Only Dave could get away with singing "Swing on a Star" in a Village club. Good man. I had a cheeseburger with him, in the Village of course. He died February 10, 2002, of colon cancer.
Henry Vestine -- guitarist with Canned Heat; died October 20, 1997, of a heart attack.
Alan Wilson -- guitarist with Canned Heat. He killed himself in Bob Hite's backyard September 3, 1970.
Johnny Winter -- Died July 17, 2014. The Lone Star State's albino blazing blueser. He was quite a sight, black leather over pure white skin and hair. An article about him in Rolling Stone prompted Steve Paul to make a hasty call to be his manager and, successful, flew him to New York that same day or something like it to make his New York City debut.
Steve, the club’s maître ‘d Teddy and I raced through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, driving upside down like in "Men in Black," and picked him up at JFK. I recall walking through the terminal, high on THC, my boots a foot off the floor, later recalling it after reading "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- "The secret to flying is to hurl yourself at the ground and miss." We found Johnny, drove him straight to Second Avenue, the Fillmore East or somewhere else nearby, it doesn't matter, where he got onstage with a blues band, which one ... same thing, it doesn't matter.
Johnny played the frets off the other guitarist. I wrote that he was "the finest blues musician to ever play" the place, not sure that there ever was one. Clive Davis later grumbled that the line added $100,000 to Johnny's contract price. Johnny was worth it, Clive could afford it, and there began a long and respectful career.
Frank Zappa -- died of prostate cancer on December 4, 1993. He was rock's cranky innovator (House with a guitar before Hugh Laurie was House with a guitar) and first-amendment advocate who clashed famously with anti-rock activist Tipper Gore over censorship of rock lyrics. When I met him he was at a so-so New York hotel in bed with a naked groupie, pulling apart a barbequed chicken. He was wearing the same "PIPCO" tee shirt that he later wore on an album cover. Swallow that, Tipper.
Keith Richards lives on, thumbing his well-travelled nose at all the aforementioned.
I just had an epiphany.
Thank you very much, bartender. I’ll have another.
In this festive autumn of doom, it occurs to me that my career has been in thirds.
In the first I was a reporter covering rock stars and their fabulous deaths.
In the second I wrote novels about jolly New Yorkers who killed one another.
In the third I’m covering medical research designed to keep people from dying.
Thank you, commie (well, sort of) Dad for telling me, at age 10 in 1953 at the heart of the McCarthy-inspired purge of red- and red-leaning newspapermen like him, that “the fascist takeover of America is imminent” and that he would be one of the first taken out and shot.
Thank you, Dad, for my career. And my sense of humor.
Yes, this is the heart of the memoire I’m writing. Now I have an outline.
Thank you, Donald Trump, for being the man my father warned me about.
Thank you again, bartender. Keep ‘em coming,
The village green is ghostly with pallid tweens wandering in apparent trances following the light of rectanglular boxes that they point here and there and occasionally squeal at in short-lived glee. And then they're off in search of whatever digital graphic treasure may be found amidst the toking layabouts who loiter in the shadow of the train station. "Bienvenedos a America," the town cries to the Mexican newcomers.
David Bowie died recently. You may have heard. I wasn't a full-tilt fan and in consequence thereof didn't rend as many garments as some. As might be put by someone within hailing distance of youth, the dude was okay. He occupies a small amount of real estate on my playlist. One of them, "Putting out Fire with Gasoline," the theme from the 1980s remake of "Cat People," I went considerably out of my way to get.
Why do I bring it Bowie up now? Because in all the public mourning and celebration-of-life in print over the past week or so I don't recall seeing much about Bowie's super-legendary introduction to "New York's large and influential counter-culture, most of whom had never heard of David Bowie," as put by the site "The Ziggy Stardust Companion." That would have been September 28, 1972, his Carnegie Hall debut, which was the mightiest display of the power of the hipper-than-thou ever seen in the City that Doesn't Understate.
Only a few writers were underwhelmed: Robert Christgau (Newsday), who wrote "I must concede that the performance did not impress me at all. In fact, I told my assistant, who accompanied me, that I thought he was a classic example of the star established though hype. Obviously I was wrong, but I wasn't wrong about that concert. It was nothing and the atmosphere was one of frenzied hype stirred up by RCA."
Al Aronowitz (New York Post, who didn't go but relied on notes from his assistant) "He baffled the straights, bored the hip, delighted the stoned freaks and had flowers thrown at him." That was about the most complimentary Al got.
And then there was this dolt, writing in his "New York Times" syndicated column that was printed in the daily papers in all major markets except for NY, LA, and DC.
The "Baltimore Sun" was one of them. Here's the text file:
Mike Jahn, Baltimore Sun, 15 October 1972
"One more freak show"
NOTHING LIKE a freak show to keep the blood flowing. You don't have to take it seriously; you can just sit there and giggle. Iggy Stooge, Alice Cooper — they're good for a laugh. I thought Alice Cooper was the last of that breed — Sixties nostalgia, the revival of the psychedelic carnival. But no, there's another, Britisher David Bowie.
Already the owner of a best-selling LP, "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," (RCA), Bowie arrived last week for his Carnegie Hall debut. Outside, a light truck had a beam sweeping the skies, the type of light used for Hollywood premieres and supermarket openings. It cost $150, but the man running it was disturbed. "It's the air pollution," he said. "We can reach 20 miles in the country. Here, we're lucky to get higher than the pigeons."
Inside, a long line of elegant drag queens was searching for seats. One had a floor-length, silver evening dress matched with silver sparkles glued above the eyes. Another had velvet pants and six-color, tie-dyed Afro hair. I took a long look at the crowd and decided to trade my good seat for one in the back.
Warhol and Co.
It turned out to be the best seat in the house. Andy Warhol walks in and plants himself in the seat in front of me. With him is Gerri Miller, the huge-breasted woman who appears in his movies, notably "Trash." One by one the drag queens come by and pay their respects. The concert starts.
Bowie walks on stage to a fanfare, a tape of some baroque keyboard music and three strobe lights. Fillmore Auditorium circa 1966. He is tall, thin, with bright red hair that goes straight up on top, and straight down in the back. His cheekbones are so high they're feet over is head.
Bowie looks like a skinny version of 1956 Elvis Presley, except that Bowie's gold suit is skin tight, not baggy like Presley's was. Bowie's concert is loud and chunky, like Alice Cooper's but better-sung and unconcerned with snakes and whips. He has one song called 'Andy Warhol'.
"Andy walking, Andy tired
Andy take a little snooze
Tie him up when he's fast asleep
Send him on a pleasant cruise."
In front of me, Andy's gang is plotting. Gerri Miller is going to take a bouquet of flowers and run up to the stage. She will hand them to David Bowie and tell him they're a present from Andy. Since David must be thrilled by this, he will invite Gerri onstage. Then she will take off her clothes, which is something she does at the drop of a hat.
Gerri squeezes by Andy, and makes for the stage. She crouches halfway down the aisle, waiting for her moment. The song David is singing builds to a crescendo, then is over. Gerri dashes for the stage, huge chest doing a good job of breaking out of her lace-up dress.
Bowie is thanking the audience for its applause. Gerri reaches up and thrusts the bouquet under his nose. He doesn't notice, and goes on talking. She waves it back and forth. Nothing. Then finally his eyes drift down. He sees this woman trying to talk to him. He smiles halfheartedly, takes the flowers, and without hearing a word, drops them on the floor. An RCA press agent explains:
"He hates to get flowers. Last week in Memphis a girl gave him a bunch of roses. He cut his finger on a thorn and had to stop the show while someone went for a Band-Aid."
© Mike Jahn, 1972
Rebel rebel, your face is a mess ...
1.23.16: Forget naming a star for your sweetie. Forget uploading that porn tape you made on your honeymoon. The star will blow up. It’s called a supernova. The porn tape will blow up. It’s called a tort.
Name a roach for your ex. This Valentine's Day, let your special someone know your love is everwhere. Under the sink, for example. Name one of the Bronx Zoo's Madagascar hissing cockroaches for your ex. Tens of thousands of roaches ... well, the Bronx Zoo is in the Bronx -- remain nameless and would make a great symbol of your devotion. For $10, we'll send your loved one a digital certificate to cherish for years to come, featuring the name of your Valentine's roach. Stuck for a name? “Trump” works for me.
This year, you can even up the romance by adding chocolate. For $25, there’ll be a printed roach certificate and something sweet. Go for it.
1.21.16: Palin doesn't want to help Trump -- she just wants to give Bristol the opportunity to conceive her next illegitimate child in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Watching “Dr. No” (1962) for the first time in years. Enjoyed the moment where the screen hero changed forever. Someone fired six shots at Bond to no effect. Bond “got the the drop” on him and, after a little repartee, the man picked up his gun and tried to fire again, but it was empty. Bond said “that’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.” And plugged him. Then put another in his back as he lay on the floor.
Not much, you say? But it was about the first time that a hero, given the option of beating the bad guy up, locking him in the cellar, lashing him to a tree, whatever, and calling the cops, as movie heros had done forever, simply shot him. Twice, the second time in the back as he lay on the floor. I remember it being remarked about at the time. What had happened to the movie hero? Most recently Lady Judy Dench remarked to the current Bond, “quite a body count you’ve racked up.”
Well, 1962 was the height of the nuclear annihilation scare. I organized a beer party in the college parking lot. We drank and looked toward New York City, 50 miles away, waiting for the fireball. But 2013 is the height of the ridiculous amateur politician. I look at the Twitter feed and giggle.
Carrie Underwood may be a country singer whose name suggests an old-timey traveling typist, but the song she made into a hit, "Before He Cheats," is the most adroit look ever into the Republican mindset.
Here's a precis, per Wikipedia:
"Before He Cheats" tells the story of a woman taking revenge on her potentially unfaithful boyfriend/husband.
"She imagines him hanging out and flirting with a 'bleach-blonde' girl, shooting pool, buying her a drink, dancing, and hoping to 'get lucky' with her. In retaliation, [the narrator] vandalizes his customized four-wheel drive vehicle by keying the sides, carving her name into its leather seats, smashing the headlights with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat and slashing all four tires. She hopes that this will make him 'think before he cheats' again."
Boy, doing $4000 worth of damage to my car would sure make me think -- about hopping the next bus to the first town with a lawyer in it. It would NOT make me fonder of this clearly unstable bit of trailer trash.
What does this have to do with the Republican mindset? Well, you KNOW, don't you. Here we have a clearly unstable gang of House wreckers who would bring down the government by way of making it amenable to their pre-Industrial Revolution vision of America. (An action, BTW, that was considered treason when articulated by my gang of partisans in the 60s.)
To make sure that our less fortunate citizens -- including the poor and immigrants likely to vote Democratic -- are put in danger of death by inability get care, the Republicans will take a Louisville Slugger to all that their constantly cited idol, Jesus, stood for.
So, my friends with visions of destroying the legally elected government of this land of the free and making a huge chunk of the population sick, learn to play guitar and go entertain the rest of the luddites at the Country Music Awards, where the old-timey typist is routinely applauded for advocating treason. Get the hell out of Washington.
Elsewhere in this narrative I printed my old man's description of his encounter with Dutch Schultz at the height of the Depression and in the waning days of Prohibition. Here in a 1975 column he recalls the effect of that especially ridiculous exercise in social engineering on our home town of Sayville, N.Y., lately best known as the place to catch the ferry to Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines, the gay towns on Fire Island. He was a newspaperman before me, and in many ways led a much more interesting life. Here's his piece:
Slats Thompson and the Good Ship '100 Proof'
by Joseph C. Jahn
It's been 42 years, give or take a drink, since the Volstead Act passed into blessed oblivion, but there are old timers out my way who vividly remember Prohibition's effect on their lives.
Rum Row was only a few miles off the coast, and ships that passed in the night included small vessels (local registry) whose bilges were awash with illicit bottled goods. A good deal of maritime money passed hands, allowing some blue collar workers to live in the same baronial splendor as politicians and cops.
Slats Thompson was nonplussed when he stood before his draft board, at age 35, in 1941, and volunteered for the Navy. "Have you had any sea experience," the chairman asked.
"In small boats," Slats said.
That was modest. Slat's old speedboat wasn't called "100 Proof" for nothing during her heyday on the Great South Bay. Not only was she the fastest boat around, but Slats enjoyed 100 per cent protection from the law due to his generosity to parties of the second part.
But rum running was only one manifestation of local interest in the outside world during Prohibition. The ' worst booze Manhattan speakeasies served their customers did not come from Rum Row. It came from stills in and about my town. The odor of booze was as familiar to discerning natives as the smell of salt in the seaborne air.
Oddly enough, just about everyone smelled it but the constabulary. "They allus seemed to have bad head colds," is the way old man Phillips explained their inability to detect the odor of ersatz Old Granddad fermenting in farm houses and barns.
The constables' vision wasn't any better. Among the things they never saw were speakeasies. And their hearing was even worse. Among the night noises they never heard was the roar of trucks carrying booze from the speedboats to the city. The free-wheeling trucks shook our houses, but never stirred the law.
These activities brought interesting visitors to town, including gangsters like Dutch Schultz, who immediately fell in love with the environment. It was an ideal place, Dutch concluded, to dispose of the bodies of members of other gangs who dast hijack his trucks.
More than one native peered into an abandoned car to discover the remains of a hoodlum with a neat round hole in his noggin. Did they report their findings to the constabulary? Only if they were very dumb. To be called as a witness in a gangland rubout was the closest thing to suicide. It made insurance companies very nervous, too. A chicken farmer who lived north of town was painting his front porch one Sunday afternoon when two dapper gents in a long black Lincoln stopped to inquire the whereabouts of the town dump. The chicken farmer's curiosity was whetted by the presence in the back seat of a third party who appeared to be in need of an undertaker.
"Three blocks to the east and turn north," he told the visitors. When the long black Lincoln pulled away, the painter got his family into his old flivver and hauled stakes. He returned a week later to learn from a neighbor that in his absence a very deceased person had been unearthed at the town dump.
"You missed all the excitement," the neighbor said.
"The hell you say," the chicken farmer responded, and resumed painting his porch.
Published in the Long Island Press, February 21, 1975